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Drinking Habits

Tracking Your Drinking Can Change Your Relationship with Alcohol

December 26, 2022
23 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
December 26, 2022
23 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
December 26, 2022
23 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
December 26, 2022
23 min read
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Reframe Content Team
December 26, 2022
23 min read

You know how sometimes a quick peek at our bank statements can be a jaw-dropper? Or how a ping from your Apple Watch informing you that your step count has declined over the last month can give you a jolt of unease? Tracking can definitely lead to some uncomfortable moments. However, by the same token, it can provide boosts of motivation. Maybe you check your account and see that you’ve finally saved up enough to get a new tech gadget you’ve been eyeing. Or maybe you see that your resting heart rate dropped down to a healthier level after starting a morning meditation routine — yay!

In today's data-driven world, we're tracking everything — from the steps we take to the hours we sleep, the food we consume, and the moods we experience. A range of tools can shed light on the intricacies of our habits, provide valuable insights, and pave the way for informed decisions. 

When it comes to our relationship with alcohol, tracking is an indispensable ally. Instead of relying solely on memory or gut feelings, we have objective, tangible data. Whether you're curious, concerned, or committed to change, diving into the world of tracking can help transform your understanding of alcohol in your life. How do drink trackers work? And what are the features to look for in drink tracking apps? Let’s explore!

Awareness Is Half the Battle

When we think about our behaviors, particularly around drinking, our minds can be sneaky. We tend to underestimate the “couple” of beers we had on a lazy Sunday afternoon, or sometimes just forget about that extra glass of wine we had on Tuesday. It's not deliberate — it's just how our brains work. And that's where the beauty of tracking comes in, offering us a reality check.

Recognition of a pattern or habit is the very first step towards managing or changing it. By continuously keeping tabs, we not only become more aware of our drinking, but also learn the contexts in which we drink. Is it more on weekends? After stressful work days? During specific social situations? Knowledge is power — the power to make informed choices about our relationship with alcohol.

We're optimistic beings by nature. However, this optimism often extends to how we remember our actions, leading us to give “positive” actions more weight (more on the memory tricks our minds play on us later). This is true for alcohol consumption as well: research shows that the vast majority of people underestimate their alcohol consumption

However, actively tracking our drinking habits acts as a game changer — the “aha” that can serve as a catalyst for change. Studies show that people who simply monitor their drinking cut back significantly. Why? When you start counting those drinks, you're less likely to have “just one more.”

Giving ourselves a reality check through tracking is not about guilt or self-judgment. Instead, it’s about self-awareness, which can empower us to steer our lives in the direction we truly want. Here’s where the power lies:

  • The tangibility factor. When we see things in black and white, they become more tangible. Think about it: hearing you’ve spent money is one thing, but seeing the exact amount? That hits differently. The same goes for tracking your drinks. Seeing the number of drinks you've had in a week can be a compelling wake-up call.
  • The feedback effect. We humans have an innate need for feedback. It's why we check our reflections in mirrors, read reviews before buying products, or look at our step count on fitness trackers. Getting real-time feedback on our drinking patterns provides immediate insights and the motivation to make changes if needed.

Our Memory Plays Tricks on Us

But why do we tend to filter out negative information, even to the point of denying obvious facts? Our brains have a little quirk called cognitive bias — we often remember things in a rosier light than they were. By tracking your drinking, you get a more accurate picture. No more “I only had one … or was it two … or three?” moments.

Memory isn't our most reliable ally, especially when it comes to habits and routines. Our brains juggle thousands of pieces of information daily. It's no wonder some details get a bit fuzzy. When it comes to alcohol, these blurred lines can significantly impact our understanding of our own consumption. Here’s why:

  • The fallibility of memory. While we might think of our memories as precise neurological videos we can replay, science shows that memory is not a fixed recording — instead, it’s a reconstruction. Each time we recall an event, we're essentially piecing it together anew, influenced by our current emotions, subsequent events, and even societal expectations. Each time we recollect something, the chance of minor (or major) alterations increases.
  • The alcohol-memory paradox. Here’s a twist: alcohol itself affects memory! Consuming alcohol can impair the brain's ability to form new long-term memories, while leaving intact the ability to recall memories formed before intoxication. This means that on occasions where we drink more, we might not remember the exact amount we drank.
  • Selective memory and cognitive ease. Our brains love taking shortcuts to conserve energy. One such shortcut is the “availability heuristic” — the tendency to judge the frequency or importance of something based on how easily it comes to mind. So, if we remember rejecting a drink recently, we might overestimate how often we abstain or underestimate our typical consumption.

This is where tracking can work wonders. When we track our drinking, we’re not relying on memory reconstruction or the brain’s shortcuts. We’re dealing with data — objective and unaltered. It offers a clear picture, untouched by the whims and biases of our memory processes.

Stepping away from memory games and committing to a tracking regimen provides clarity and, more importantly, a foundation for actionable change. At the end of the day, we can only manage what we measure. And with something as significant as alcohol, we want our measurements to be accurate.

Understanding Our Triggers: The Key to Changing Habits

Once we have a handle on the reality of our habits — all facts, no memory tricks — we have the information we need to change the patterns that tracking reveals. The next step after being aware of our behaviors is decoding our patterns.

Let's face it. We're creatures of habit. Whether it's that morning cup of coffee or the route we take for our evening jog, patterns shape our daily life. Most habits operate in the background, like apps running silently on your smartphone. We might not actively think about them, but they're continually influencing our actions. 

Research shows that habits form in loops consisting of three parts: the cue (or trigger), the routine (the behavior itself), and the reward. Recognizing and understanding our triggers can be a game-changer in our quest to modify our relationship with alcohol. 

When we jot down when and why we drank, our triggers become visible. Maybe it’s stress. Maybe it’s that fidgety Friday feeling. Understanding your triggers is a big step in managing them.

In this way, we’re not just noting the “routine” aspect of our drinking — we are starting to identify the cues that precede drinking and the rewards that follow. For instance, maybe we notice we often drink more on Friday nights (the routine) after a particularly stressful workweek (the cue) because it helps us relax (the reward).

Recognizing a pattern, however, is only half the battle. The next step is actively trying to disrupt it or replace it. The beauty of identifying the circumstances surrounding our drinking is that it puts the power to do this in our hands. Once we know the common triggers or situations that lead to increased alcohol consumption, we can develop strategies to alter or avoid them. For example, if we notice we often drink when feeling stressed, we might opt for a non-alcoholic way to unwind, such as meditation or a brisk walk. With the tracker to guide us, we can measure the success of these new strategies, adjusting and refining as we go.

In the end, pinpointing patterns and triggers isn't about playing the blame game or being hard on ourselves. It's about unraveling the intricate network of habits that make up our lives and, armed with newfound insights, rearranging them into a pattern that aligns with the life we want to lead.

Activating the Feedback Loop Triggers the Reward System

Humans thrive on feedback. From the grades we received in school to the comments we eagerly (or nervously) await on our social media posts, feedback informs, corrects, and motivates our behaviors. When it comes to understanding our relationship with alcohol, this feedback loop proves invaluable.

Science tells us that when people get feedback on their behavior, they're more likely to adjust it. It’s like when we weigh ourselves every day — we become more conscious of that extra slice of cake. Why? Our brains are wired for immediate rewards. In the realm of neuroscience, this is closely tied to the release of dopamine, the "feel good" neurotransmitter. When we see immediate results or get instant feedback, this system is activated, encouraging us to continue or alter a behavior based on the perceived reward.

Consider the annual medical check-up. We might be informed about the long-term effects of our drinking habits once a year, but this infrequent feedback can lack the immediacy to spark change. There's a gap — often a vast one! — between action and response, which makes it easier to dismiss or delay corrective measures.

Contrast this with real-time tracking of alcohol consumption. When we log and review our intake daily or even weekly, we receive consistent, immediate feedback. We can quickly identify trends, make connections, and more importantly, observe the direct effects of any changes we implement.

As we track and receive feedback, we’ll notice days or even stretches of days when our intake is lower or when we’ve abstained completely. Congrats! Recognizing these achievements provides further dopamine-driven reinforcement, encouraging us to continue or further these positive changes.

Consistent feedback not only highlights success, but it also reveals areas needing attention. Perhaps weekends or certain social situations are more challenging. With constant feedback, we can promptly strategize and experiment with solutions, adapting in real-time rather than waiting for another yearly review. It's like having a personal coach giving us insights and cheering us on after every play, guiding us towards a healthier relationship with alcohol!

How Do Drink Trackers Work

In our tech-savvy age, tracking our alcohol consumption is easier than ever. But it's not just about using a tool — it’s about finding one that resonates with you. After all, you're more likely to stick with something if it fits seamlessly into your routine. What are the features to look for in a drink tracking app? Here's a breakdown of the various tracking methods available:

  • Digital apps. Smartphone applications have revolutionized tracking. Many are tailored specifically for alcohol consumption, offering features like drink counters, health statistics, and even supportive community chats. Apps can provide immediate feedback, visual trends, and reminders, making them a popular choice for many.
  • Traditional journaling. For those who prefer a tactile approach, maintaining a handwritten diary can be therapeutic. By jotting down your drinks, moods, and associated events, you not only track but also reflect, allowing for deeper introspection.
  • Wearable tech. Some advanced wearables now offer blood alcohol concentration (BAC) estimation features. While they might not capture the number of drinks, they can give you an idea of how alcohol is affecting your body in real-time.
  • Printable templates. Plenty of free online resources offer printable weekly or monthly alcohol tracking charts. These can be pinned up at a spot you often see, serving both as a tracker and as a visual reminder.
  • Online spreadsheets. Tools like Google Sheets or Excel allow you to create a customized tracking system. With formulas, you can even generate your own graphs and analyses. Share them with a support group or friend for accountability.
  • Dedicated devices. While more of an investment, there are pocket-sized devices available that measure your BAC. Blow into one to get immediate feedback, which helps you make informed decisions if, say, you're considering driving.
  • Mood and lifestyle tracking apps. While not dedicated to alcohol tracking, these apps allow users to record daily activities, food, mood, and, yes, alcohol. By seeing how drinking intertwines with other lifestyle factors, you might gain broader insights into your habits.

Regardless of the type of tracker you choose, the most important element is consistency. Tracking sporadically can offer some insights, but the real magic happens when it becomes a regular part of your routine. So pick a tracker that speaks to you!

Diagram about the steps to get your drink tracking game on point

Steps To Get Your Drink Tracking Game on Point

  • Pick your tracker. Dive into the world of apps or go old school with a diary. Find what tickles your fancy and narrow down what features to look for in a drink tracker.
  • Rate your mood. Before you have a drink, note down your mood — doing this helps identify emotional triggers.
  • Be specific. Instead of "I drank a bit,” try "I had two glasses of wine." It's like the difference between noting down that you ate 5 cookies and not "some" cookies.
  • Note the time. This isn’t just for fun. You might find that 5 pm on a Friday is your kryptonite. Or maybe it’s Sunday afternoons? Keep track and find out!
  • Have a buddy. Everything's more fun with friends! Find a buddy who's also tracking. Swap stories, laugh about blunders, and support each other.
  • Set small goals. Think of this as leveling up in a video game. Maybe aim to reduce your intake by one drink a week. Every little bit counts!
  • Review and revel. At the end of each week, take a peek at your tracker. Celebrate small wins, laugh at silly mistakes, and adjust if needed.

Unleashing the Power

Remember, the aim of tracking isn’t to make you feel bad; it’s to create more “Aha!” moments to help you on your journey. The power of awareness is real. And while tracking might not always deliver pleasant surprises, it’s a journey worth embarking on. 

And who knows? Perhaps after getting your alcohol habit under control you might find tracking to be useful in other areas of your life, such as your diet and exercise patterns, interactions with friends and family, or subjects you’ve always wanted to learn more about. The sky's the limit! 

Summary FAQs

1. Why should I track my alcohol consumption?

Tracking your drinking can offer you a genuine reality check, helping you become more conscious of your intake and potentially influencing healthier choices.

2. How reliable is our memory when it comes to recalling alcohol consumption?

Memory, while invaluable, can be surprisingly fallible. When reconstructing past events, including how much we drank, our memories can be influenced by various factors, making tracking a more objective alternative.

3. What's the benefit of receiving real-time feedback on my drinking habits?

Real-time feedback engages our brain's love for instant gratification, allowing us to see immediate patterns and results, which can motivate positive behavioral changes.

4. How can pinpointing drinking patterns help me?

Identifying specific cues or triggers, routines, and rewards associated with your drinking can empower you to develop strategies to modify or replace them, leading to healthier habits.

5. What's the connection between tracking drinks and our brain's dopamine system?

Our brain releases dopamine, a "feel-good" neurotransmitter, in response to rewards. By recognizing achievements in reduced or moderated drinking through tracking, we receive dopamine-driven reinforcement, which can encourage further positive changes.

6. Can tracking my drinking help me understand the contexts in which I drink more?

Absolutely! By noting not just the amount, but also factors like mood, location, or company, you can gain insights into specific situations or emotions that might be associated with increased alcohol consumption.

7. Is the goal of tracking to induce guilt about my drinking habits?

Not at all! The aim is self-awareness, not self-judgment. By understanding your habits better, you are empowered to make informed decisions about your relationship with alcohol.

Reframe Can Help You Track Your Drinking and More!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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